Wow! Poland! Why I ever thought it would be drab and dull I have no idea. It was just the opposite! Beautiful, clean, colorful, trendy, green, efficient, modern! The people were friendly and just about everyone spoke English. I loved it! Took a free walking tour that covered the city center and ended with a shot of vodka at a vodka bar. Poles love their vodka. Had lunch at one of the few remaining "Milk Bars" ( a leftover from east-bloc Poland serving unpretentious food for dirt cheap prices) in the city and had a very authentic meal! No frills and no English spoken here!
Warsaw was flattened (85% of it) during WW2 so all of the quaint and colorful old-looking buildings were actually pretty new and made to look old. The city center had a bit of a "Mainstreet Disneyland" look to it...quaint and perfect...but that's exactly why it's been added as a UNESCO World Heritage site!
Discovered Pirogi on my first night and I ate nothing else for over a week (except one meal of sausage, potatoes, saurkraut!) Pirogi is a dough dumpling stuffed with fillings (30-40 different combinations at least) such as meat, cheese, spinach, potatoes, saurkraut and then topped with either a rich bacon gravy, sour cream, or garlic butter. I couldn't get enough of these little beauties! An average order came with at least 10! Ate, shopped, and visited one beautiful church after another for three days and then headed to Krakow by train.
The Polish countryside was mostly farmland sprinkled with quaint villages. My hostel was outside of town in the suburbs. Very modern and laid back and they had a cute Shetland Sheepdog mix puppy that I got to walk frequently! Took another two free walking tours (the same day and I don't recommend it as I was exhausted afterwards) that covered the city center, Jewish Ghetto, and Wawel, the royal palace. Visited Oskar Schindler's factory and Zgody Square, the main place for deportation of Krakow's Jews. Actually saw a piece of the Jewish Ghetto wall. There were hundreds of kids from Israel on tour in Krakow while I was there.
Took a one-day tour of Auschwitz and Birkenau. Very sobering to say the least and many visitors were sobbing as we toured the camps. I thought I was pretty knowledgable about what went on in the camps but it turned out I didn't know the half of what went on there. I get a lump in my throat everytime I recall it. Stayed a few more days in Krakow visiting the many churches, museums, shops and then moved on to Austria. I didn't see Poland in winter but I think I can safely say I could live there. It's one of my very favorite places!
Marilyn Glad you enjoyed Poland so much, it really sounds great. I love reading your blog posts, thank you! Keep up the good work. Take care, Marilyn